Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Albuquerque Airport Security

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE – The Albuquerque airport has the nation’s longest lines for security checks. That’s the consensus of about 50 friends with whom we recently flew out of Albuquerque.
Most of the people were frequent flyers, so should be fairly good judges. Their opinions are supported by recent comments from readers around the state and by flight attendants we talked to on our trip.
Not long ago, the news carried a story about Sen. Jeff Bingaman writing a letter to the head of the Transportation Security Administration describing his long wait in Albuquerque and asking for some resolution.
Nothing has come of that yet, but Bingaman should be getting support from fellow Sen. Pete Domenici and Reps. Heather Wilson and Tom Udall, who also have to fly out of Albuquerque. Members of Congress would seem to be our best hope for shortening those lines, so you should contact them if you would like to see some action.
Gov. Bill Richardson and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez also should be doing something about the problem because of their interest in bringing new industries to Albuquerque and New Mexico.
Any company wanting to put a branch plant in the northern part of the state will have to be doing some airline travel and one experience in Albuquerque may likely discourage them, unless they have a company plane.
Corporate jets may be the reason Gov. Richardson hasn’t been “fighting for New Mexico” on this issue. News reports indicate he tools around on private jets out of the Santa Fe airport most of the time, so he may not be aware of the problem. And that may be why he is finagling so hard to get a big new state airplane in which to take his trips.
New Mexicans on the eastern and southern sides of the state would be wise to use Texas airports from what we understand. Houston gets some pretty bad reviews, but airports in El Paso, Lubbock and Amarillo reportedly have much shorter waits than Albuquerque.
Personal experience with the Albuquerque airport indicates that redeye flights are about the only ones for which a wait of well over an hour shouldn’t be expected. By daybreak, security lines are beginning to snake around like Disneyland and soon they extend down the escalator to wind all around the downstairs area and eventually to the driveway outside.
The TSA seems to have plenty of employees milling about all over the place. But near as I can tell, they mainly are for crowd control to keep angry passengers in line during their two-hour wait. More checkpoints obviously are needed and it shouldn’t take additional employees to staff them.
I have seen and heard information that Albuquerque leads the nation in delayed flights and in the number of people who miss flights wholly because of TSA incompetence. It sounds believable, but I don’t have it completely verified yet.
If travelers are so upset with the waits, why don’t they raise more of a ruckus about them? The answer seems to be that they accept the inconveniences as current travel reality and as evidence of improved travel security.
But so far, no terrorists have been caught in airport security lines. If they had been, we certainly would have been told. And the waits don’t have to be accepted as necessary or inevitable. They don’t happen at all airports.
The waits are longer in Albuquerque now than when the airlines handled security. The airlines suffer when people decide not to travel or to use a different means of transportation. They should be complaining, but they aren’t, possibly because they all are in financial trouble and want more help from the government.
Dave Clary of Roswell, a frequent contributor to this column, says an Albuquerque TSA employee told him the problem is not security; it’s that too many people want to fly.
That’s just what the airlines don’t want to hear.
FRI, 11-05-04

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Post a Comment

<< Home